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    South by South America Tour – Bolivia Part 3

    Thursday, September 19, 2019
    Villa Martin to Uyuni, Bolivia

    The pre-dawn horizon on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
    The pre-dawn horizon on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

    Jump for joy on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
    Jump for joy on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

    The third and final day of our Salar de Uyuni trip with the tour operator Cruz Andina started out early with a 5:00 am wake up call at their hostel in the village of Villa Martin near the salt flats. The tour guide Magic Mike knocked on my door at 4:54 am, claiming it was 4:58. “Nope. The clock on your phone is fast, dude. I still have six minutes to get ready.” Around 5:10 am, with the car all packed up with our luggage…and thankfully us, we pulled away from the hostel and into the darkness of the pre-dawn desert. A short while later, dirt and sand gave way to pure white salt as we entered the Salar de Uyuni, which is the world’s largest salt flats, measuring 4,086 square miles. At our first stop, we got out of the car and stood around in the crisp, cold air, amazed at the pure, empty, vast salt flat expanse bordered by distant mountain ranges all around. As the moments ticked by, we watched the sky glow red and orange in the far eastern horizon.

    Daybreak on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
    Daybreak on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

    A close-up of the salty surface of the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
    A close-up of the salty surface of the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

    An ant's eye view of the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
    An ant’s eye view of the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

    When the sky got a little brighter, the group photo session started. With Magic Mike behind the lens laying down on the ground, our group stood in a straight line and jumped up above the horizon at the same time. We also imitated the graphic that shows evolution from knuckle dragging apes to upright modern homo sapiens. Mike even shot a video as he drove around us in circles while we struck silly poses. Unfortunately, as the sun rose above the horizon, the eastern sky was obscured by haze and clouds, which prevented photos of a clear sunrise. I guess it figures that the rest of the sky was cloud free! After everyone was finished shooting their own photos, with the sun higher and the sky and white ground bright, we all piled into the car and cruised over to our second stop a few miles away.

    Cars parked at Isla Incahuasi on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
    Cars parked at Isla Incahuasi on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

    Cat stands among the cacti on Isla Incahuasi in the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
    Cat stands among the cacti on Isla Incahuasi in the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

    A view from on high of the cactus-covered Isla Incahuasi on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
    A view from on high of the cactus-covered Isla Incahuasi on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

    After a short while, we pulled up to Isla Incahuasi, a cactus-covered rock formation that forms the biggest island in the Salar de Uyuni. As Magic Mike got busy setting up the breakfast table, we paid a nominal entry fee and started our ascent up the path to the top of the rock formations. On the way, we all stopped repeatedly to shoot photos of each other standing next to large cacti. The tip top of the island offered strong, cold winds and awe-inspiring, dramatic views of the eerily empty salt flat expanse framed by majestic mountain ranges in the background. After a few more photos up there, everyone began the descent down stone steps, through a craggy tunnel and on down to a small museum and gift shop. Then we ate breakfast on a couple of salt picnic tables as we watched a very enthusiastic group of young Chileans march across the salt brandishing their national flag.

    A view from the top of Isla Incahuasi on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
    A view from the top of Isla Incahuasi on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

    Sam, Ting Ting and Scott descend through a craggy tunnel within Isla Incahuasi on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
    Sam, Ting Ting and Scott descend through a craggy tunnel within Isla Incahuasi on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

    A Bolivian pan flute on Isla Incahuasi on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
    A Bolivian pan flute on Isla Incahuasi on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

    After that, we got back in the car and drove a short ways to our third stop, where the salt flats were covered by a more pronounced geometric pattern of pentagons formed by a salty crust. Receding from our feet into the vast distance, the pattern looked astonishing. What an amazing universe we live in! Magic Mike shot two more silly videos of us there, employing perspective at ground level. The first featured Ting Ting cooking the rest of us in a pot, and the other had Cat beckoning us to enter a Pringles can. She then put the lid on the can, raised it up and shook it violently while laughing maniacally as we all offered up a fake, weak scream. For the grand finale, she tossed it on the ground and we groaned. Mike then shot more silly perspective photos of Ting Ting holding up Sam with two fingers, etc.

    Cake for breakfast? Left to right: Donal, Cat and Magic Mike in front of Isla Incahuasi on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
    Cake for breakfast? Left to right: Donal, Cat and Magic Mike in front of Isla Incahuasi on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

    A natural geometric pattern on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
    A natural geometric pattern on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

    The Cruz Andina tour guide Magic Mike on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
    The Cruz Andina tour guide Magic Mike on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

    Our fourth stop was at a salt hotel that had closed down years before, and has since been converted into a gift shop and curio emporium. After checking out some strange salt statues in there, we moseyed back outside over to a large monument built for the Dakar car and motorcycle races that are held there on the salt flats. A crap ton of tourists were shooting photos of each other there. Stop number five was a tiny salt factory in a village, where Magic Mike showed us how salt is combined with iodine and packaged up for sale in the gift shop. For stop six, we proceeded into the dusty, sandy town of Uyuni to eat our last supper (actually, lunch) at a small restaurant. Somehow, it was way colder inside that place than outside!

    The interior of an old salt hostel on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
    The interior of an old salt hostel on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

    A salt statue and a rickety ladder in an old salt hostel on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
    A salt statue and a rickety ladder in an old salt hostel on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

    Magic Mike explains how salt is combined with iodine and packaged up in a tiny salt factory on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
    Magic Mike explains how salt is combined with iodine and packaged up in a tiny salt factory on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

    Our final stop of the whole three-day trip was at the Train Cemetery on the outskirts of Uyuni, where we spent a few minutes gawking at ancient trains from a century ago that were in an advanced state of photogenic, rusty decay. Pulling up to the small office of Cruz Andina in Uyuni, Magic Mike climbed up on top of the car and handed down our backpacks one last time as we all said our final goodbyes. A big thanks is in order to Magic Mike, who was a great tour guide. He was always chock-full of info in English and Spanish at each stop, as well as brandishing a sharp sense of humor, joking around and making us smile with his distinctive, infectious laugh. Also thanks to my fellow travelers Sam, Ting Ting, Cat, Donal and Scott, who provided warm companionship on this epic three-day tour of the dramatic, otherworldly landscapes of southwest Bolivia and the Salar de Uyuni. Cruz Andina represent!

    Left to right: Sam, Ting Ting, Cat, Donal and Scott enjoy the last lunch at a small restaurant in Uyuni, Bolivia.
    Left to right: Sam, Ting Ting, Cat, Donal and Scott enjoy the last lunch at a small restaurant in Uyuni, Bolivia.

    Rust and dust abound at the train cemetary in Uyuni, Bolivia.
    Rust and dust abound at the train cemetary in Uyuni, Bolivia.

    Magic Mike hands down our backpacks one last time at the office of Cruz Andina in Uyuni, Bolivia.
    Magic Mike hands down our backpacks one last time at the office of Cruz Andina in Uyuni, Bolivia.

    Words and photos ©2019 Arcane Candy.

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